Inter Wave, an indie studio, recently released Dark Matter through Steam and GoG. The game was originally pitched through Kickstarter, but the fundraising effort failed. As a result, the studio had to lay off most of its employees.
Usually, when this happens, games go unreleased. Inter Wave decided to do something bold – release an incomplete game. With the funds acquired from the game’s release, they would go on to create additional chapters. This was met with an enormous backlash from the gaming community, which resulted in the game being pulled from Steam until the developers added a proper ending to the game, and with users who requested refunds getting them.
This may seem like a travesty – a studio releasing an incomplete game at a $15.00 price point, only to sell other parts of the game later on. However, we have seen similar (and worse) practices in the gaming community. Dreaded “Online Passes” aside (may you forever burn in hell, online passes), these past two years we have seen Telltale Games release several episodic games – Sam and Max, the Tale of Monkey Island. and most famously the award winning The Walking Dead are examples of this approach. Players buy one episode which finishes in a cliffhanger, then they buy the next episode. In consoles, we can trace this back to Shining Force III, an episodic narrative distributed through three different “scenario” discs. The game was well received in Japan, as well as in the U.S. by fans of the franchise. However, Sega decided to only release the first episode stateside (Sega, PLEASE, release the others in some collection disc PLEASE). Other major episodic games include Sonic the Hedgehog 4 (Episodes I and II), Half Life II Episodes I and II, and the Doctor Who adventure games.
If all these episodic games have been widely accepted, with some indeed winning awards and amassing enormous cult followings, why is Inter Wave’s Dark Matter the source of so much hatred? Because of the execution.
Note: On the second half of the post, I propose a mode for physical and digital distribution of games that, I think, is the most interesting part of the post. If you’re one of the three major hardware companies, feel free to use it. Also, if you’re Steam, feel free to take some ideas from it.
Turns out that Microsoft backpedaled on its decision to implement 24 hour DRM and region-locking the game. As a gamer, I’m fairly OK with this. As a technology enthusiast, I’m also pretty OK with this too. The thing is: I see a future where games are digital-only, but the way Microsoft envisioned it isn’t the optimal way of approaching this. I’m glad they went back on their policy. This still doesn’t make the X-1 a first day buy for me, as I’m really not a big fan of the forced Kinect, but if Microsoft decides to put out a Kinect-free version, THAT would persuade me to make a first day purchase. As it stands, I now see Microsoft as a contender. As it stands, if a few good exclusives come out after the first few years, I would buy the console. I think that a few Lost Odyssey sequels would do it for me. But anyway, that’s an irrelevant rant, really. What I want to write about today is what Microsoft tried and failed to do, and the reasons why it failed so horribly: pushing for an all-digital future.
Let’s start with the message that Microsoft put out versus what, in a best case scenario, Microsoft envisioned and should have said.